Thanks to the advances in laser tattoo removal technologies, getting rid of a tattoo has become a lot less painful. However, tattoos are still quite difficult to remove—some more so than others. Here’s why.
What Is a Tattoo?
A tattoo is created by puncturing the skin with needles and then depositing inks, dyes, and pigments into the deep layer (dermis) of the skin.
In the past, tattoo artists would puncture the skin manually with a needle and inject the ink by hand. Today, professional tattoo artists use tattoo machines that move a needle up and down while it deposits ink into the skin.
Tattoos are permanent as the ink is deposited into the deeper layer of the skin. The ink particles are too large for the body to remove through natural processes. As such, removing a tattoo requires special methods.
What Makes a Tattoo Hard to Remove?
Laser tattoo removal uses lasers of different wavelengths to break down ink particles, which can then be removed naturally by the body’s lymphatic system.
Here are the factors that make a tattoo hard to remove and how we address each of these challenges:
Depth of the Ink
Ink is injected into the dermis (the second layer of skin) during the tattooing process. The more superficial the ink is, the easier it is to remove. Choosing the wrong laser tattoo removal technology could cause unnecessary damage to the skin.
We use state-of-the-art laser machines for tattoo removal, effectively targeting tattoo inks while minimizing damage to the surrounding skin. We determine the best technology to use based on how deep the ink is. For example, the PicoPlus Laser is the best laser tattoo removal technology for deep inks, while the PicoWay Laser is great for shallow inks as it causes the least damage to skin tissue.
Density and Age
The more dispersed the ink is, the easier it is to remove because fewer laser passes are required to break down the ink particles. Heavy lines and fully saturated fields of ink contain more pigments and require more treatment sessions to remove. Also, ink density decreases over time, so older tattoos are easier to remove.
Our technicians accurately assess the ink density and age of a tattoo to design a safe and effective treatment plan.
Different colors require lasers of different wavelengths for effective removal, and some inks are easier to remove than others. Black is the easiest to remove, while bold colors (e.g., blue, green, purple) are the most challenging and often require more treatment sessions.
Our technicians evaluate each client’s tattoo to make sure we’re using lasers of the correct wavelength for the colors. We offer full spectrum laser tattoo removal, which has the ability to break down most pigments and dyes. In particular, the Picosure Laser is ideal for green, blue, purple, and black inks.
Type of Ink
Organic inks are typically easier to break up compared to synthetic ones, which often require more treatment sessions.
However, you won’t know what kind of ink you have until you have started treatment. Therefore, it’s important to work with a reputable provider and an experienced technician who can accurately evaluate your tattoo and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.
Scar tissue encapsulates the ink and works as a barrier that makes it harder for the laser to reach the ink. If your tattooing process has created scarring (e.g., raised or discolored tattoo), you may need more sessions.
We offer a micro-needling treatment to soften scar tissues before laser tattoo removal treatment. It allows the laser to reach the inks more easily so you can reduce the number of sessions. We also recommend massaging vitamin E oil into the area to soften the scar tissue.
Lasers interact with pigments, including those in melanin, which determines the skin tone. The darker the skin tone, the more energy is absorbed into the skin rather than the ink particles. Because lasers remove all pigments, including those in the skin, the power of the laser needs to be reduced to ensure that clients with darker skin tone don’t experience hypo-pigmentation.
We follow the Fitzpatrick scale to determine skin tone, allowing us to use the correct laser strength to minimize skin discoloration. In some cases, laser tattoo removal isn’t effective for certain ink color/skin tone combinations, and our technicians may recommend excision.
Alternative Tattoo Removal Methods
- Salabrasion & Dermabrasion
Salabrasion uses a salt-based solution for the abrasion of the epidermis and dermis, while dermabrasion uses a rotating mechanical instrument for the abrasion. These methods are very painful and cause visible long-term damage to the epidermis.
- Tattoo Removal Injections
A glycolic acid-based solution or other liquid solution is injected under the skin to affect the ink of the tattoo. This method often causes long-term scars or burn-like marks, and its effectiveness isn’t consistent.
- Skin Excision
This refers to the surgical removal of tattooed skin and will leave a scar. Although this method is fine for small tattoos, it’s not ideal for larger areas, and it may require skin grafts.
- Tattoo Removal Cream
While the tattoo removal cost is low, this method is generally not effective regardless of the type of cream used (e.g., peeling, TCA, etc.). The creams may fade superficial inks in the epidermis but aren’t effective on those deposited in the dermis.
The Best Tattoo Removal Method
For most people, laser tattoo removal is the best way to get rid of unwanted tattoos. A reputable provider that has state-of-the-art equipment and an experienced technician who can accurately assess the tattoo and your skin condition can help you design an effective treatment plan.